If you’ve been tuned in here for the last few weeks, you know that I have just finished reading Stefan Zweig’s book, The World of Yesterday. I’ve commented about the book at some length in earlier posts, but I have here an interesting quote about the start of WWI. That war cost millions of lives and I have never really understood why it began or what anybody expected to gain from it. Zweig – who lived through that catastrophe, had this to say about it:
Calmly reflecting on the past, if one asks why Europe went to war in 1914, neither reasonable ground nor even provocation can be found. It had nothing to do with ideas and hardly even with petty frontiers. I cannot explain it otherwise than by this surplus of force, a tragic consequence of the internal dynamism that had accumulated in those 40 years of peace and now sought violent release.
Every state had the feeling of being strong and forgot that every other State had the same feeling, each wanted more and wanted something from the other. And the worst was that just the sentiment which we most highly valued – our common optimism – betrayed us. For each one thought that in the last moment the other would draw back affrightedly; and so the diplomats began their game of bluff.